Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

In a complete departure from my usual reading material, I just read Justin Cronin's The Passage. A word of IS a vampire book, to a degree. Okay, I see some of you rolling your eyes. Yes, vampires are all the rage right now and some of you have had it with them. But this summer's very buzzed about novel is as far from Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse as it is possible to be. Closer to Stephen King (The Stand) and Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain). I have to admit that I was a huge Stephen King fan when I was in college....I read just about all of his books. The Stand was easily my favorite. I loved the's about a virus that wipes out the vast majority of the earth's population with the survivors pulled into two groups (good & evil, of course.) It's just a fantastic story, told in a way that keeps you spellbound throughout. And so I can see why The Passage is being compared to The is another spellbinding story about the survivors of a devastating virus that changes every aspect of our world.

We begin a little bit in our future, ten or fifteen years maybe. The war on terror has progressed, we now have border crossings at state lines and security cameras and staff just about everywhere. The government is desperate to find a new weapon (how many great stories start with a colossal government screw-up???) and the idea of the moment is to turn humans into killing machines.

For that, they have experimented with twelve death row inmates. They have found a way to turn back on the thymus gland, a gland everyone has in their neck that basically begins to atrophy once adulthood is reached. In childhood the gland produces cells integral to the immune system. The effect on the inmates is to turn them into creatures remarkably like vampires. Only one tiny hitch: they are not controllable. The head scientist then decides he needs a child to test it on and six year old Amy is chosen and brought to the lab.

At this point, all hell breaks loose when all twelve inmates escape and begin a process that will kill the majority of the population while turning the remainder into the same vampirish creatures who never seem to age and are difficult to kill. Mass chaos is the result and the army attempts to take the children and sequester them, sending them to camps via train.

Fast forward 92 years. The residents of one camp are still there, have been for a few generations now, sustained by the huge banks of lights that come on every night to repel the creatures, which they call "smokes" or "virals". Few of the residents have ever seen the stars in the night sky.

"His whole life Peter had thought of the world of the Time Before as something gone. It was as if a blade had fallen onto time itself, cleaving it into halves, that which came before and that which came after. Between these halves there was no bridge; the war had been lost, the Army was no more, the world beyond the Colony was an open grave of a history no one even remembered. Peter, in fact, had never given much thought to what his father had actually been looking for, out there in the dark. He supposed this was because it had seemed so obvious: people, other survivors. But holding one of his father's rifles - and even now, lying in the barracks while his ankle mended and remembering the feel of it - he sensed something more, how the past and all its powers seemed to have flowed into him. So maybe that was what his father had been doing all along.....He'd been trying to remember the world."

The Colony, as they refer to themselves, have a simple government system set up, everyone has a role they have been trained to fulfill. The point of it all is simply their own survival. Except that the lights that come on every night run on battery power. And batteries were never designed to last for 92 years. The lights will be going out and when they do, there will be carnage. Everyone has seen the effects of those taken by the "smokes". Death is hoped for, the alternative is unthinkable.

As the residents are deciding what to do an incredible thing happens. A "walker" arrives. Walkers are legends, none have been seen in living memory. A walker is an uninfected survivor from the outside. And the walker is Amy, the final subject of that long ago experiment. She is not a smoke but was not unaffected by what was done to her. For one thing she doesn't age, or doesn't age normally. After 92 years she has aged no more than 10. And she heals at an incredible, unbelievable rate. Plus she can hear the thoughts of all those infected souls. They don't have any way to know that she is the key, the answer, the way to the salvation of the human race.

But they know that she is special in some way. When they uncover a cryptic radio transmission that has been broadcast for nearly a century a group is formed to take Amy back to where she began. The message?

"If you found her, bring her here."

Not much to go on, perhaps, but enough. A beginning, for them and for us.

Seldom have I been so captivated by a story, I spent an entire weekend completely absorbed in its nearly 800 pages. Normally I am captured by recreations of the past, historical fiction makes those long gone worlds live and breathe. With this book I have renewed appreciation for those authors who create possible futures, building up the effects and repercussions of decisions made in the present into the world that might be. This book is imaginative and vivid with fully developed, interesting characters. You will miss them when it is over...good thing this is the first in a planned trilogy.

In short, I can't recommend this book highly enough. I just loved it. Not you usual thing? Mine either but it is easily one of my favorite books of the year. How's that for an endorsement? But don't take my word for it, here are a few more reviews from some of my favorite bloggers:

The Passage is published by Ballantine, ISBN 978-0-345-50496-8. You can visit the website here.

****An interesting side note....last year I received The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan. The first of a trilogy about a vampire virus...from the back of the book "a bold, epic novel about a horrifying battle between man and vampire that threatens all humanity..." Hmmm. Of course I haven't read it yet. Yes, I admit to being over a year behind (ugh). But it sounds interesting and similiar to The Passage. Gonna have to read it so I can compare!!! Has anyone out there read them both??****


Ti said...

I love it too. I am re-reading The Stand now because of the similarities to The Passage.

The Tome Traveller said...

I need to re-read it too, Ti! It has been over twenty years since I read it last. Just have to figure out how to fit it in...

avisannschild said...

I've got to say I wasn't a fan of The Stand when I read it years ago, but I keep reading amazing reviews of The Passage, so I think I'm going to have to give it a try!

bermudaonion said...

This book is getting a lot of great reviews, and I'm still hesitant to pick it up for some reason. I need to learn to read outside of my comfort zone!

Zibilee said...

I just bought this one last week and my husband is reading it now. I am anxious to get my turn with it too! I have heard such great things about it and I am so glad that you loved it so much!! Great review!!

Beth Hoffman said...

Terrific review! I will have to give this book a try.

Donna said...

Great review! I brought this one home from the library but gave it to my husband to read because I find the heft of the book uncomfortable. So naturally I've bought an ebook copy.

My husband has read The Strain twice (he loved it) and is now reading the second book in this trilogy and finds it's not as good as the first. He thinks the writing of The Passage is better overall.

Michele said...

Oh, I'm glad you liked it. I had never read The Stand before, so I plowed through that one right after The Passage (won't post about that until King's birthday in September, lol).

But like you, I have a copy of The Strain and haven't read it yet, LOL. We should read it together! (That's what trans-cons are for, right?????)

Loved your review!

Beth F said...

I skipped to the end because I'm still reading this and didn't want to see any spoilers. So glad you liked it -- so far, I do too.

Marg said...

Like Beth I am reading this at the moment, and have to say I am completely engaged in the storyline and the book as a whole!

Gwendolyn B. said...

I have a copy of this book - it's chunkiness keeps putting me off but I've read so many enthusiastic reviews, I guess I should just take the plunge!

Carol said...


I have an award for u here


Hummer H1 Parts said...

I am an avid reader and Justin Cronin's 'The Passage' was the best book I have read in a very long time. It keeps you interested and keeps you wondering what is going to happen next. I have already recommended it to all my loved ones.

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.